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The Office Recap: I Would Like Another Alcohol

THE OFFICE -- "Christmas Wishes" Episode 810 -- Pictured: Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

Two scenes into this episode, I thought, Oh, I bet this is a Mindy Kaling wrote this one, and she did. Her episodes tend to involve everyone in the same plot — be it a Dundies ceremony, a Diwali celebration, or Jim and Pam's wedding — and she's written many of the show's holiday episodes ("Classy Christmas," "Secret Santa"). But she also has a lighter, looser touch, a soft spot for girl talk, and she often plays with an information economy, finding naturalistic humor in who knows what and when. After last week's misery parade and this season's overall sourness, I was dreading the annual Christmas episode. But "Christmas Wishes" filled me with holiday cheer, proving that there's still some juice left in this show. There are still some issues left, too, though.

The show opened with two Daily Show shout-outs — one to Mo Rocca, the other to Lewis Black — which fills me with anxiety, because The Daily Show can't exist in the world of The Office, and thus we're left to wonder how else Stanley may have become a Lewis Black fan (stand-up specials, I guess?), and also to wonder why Jim buys Stanley birthday presents. Anyway, in the meeting, Andy talks about granting everyone's Christmas wish and asks that they grant his: Be nice to his girlfriend Jessica. Kelly and her wonderful sequin blazer seem skeptical.

Erin gushes that she loves Jessica already, so she doesn't feel a need to meet her, and this brings us to one lingering issue the show needs to resolve already: the Erin-Andy coupledom. The show exhausted most of its romantic reserves on the superior Jim-Pam story years ago, and rehashing the same old story for Erin and Andy is getting old — and it's keeping Erin from having better, more developed story lines. Enter Robert California, bereft following his separation from Maura Tierney, and complaining that "it's been ten days since [he] had sexual intercourse." Oooh, this brings us to another issue: What is the deal with Robert California? Remember last season, when we were told he was a genius? I don't. Robert complains about the Black Eyed Peas, completing the Fergie-hate circuit with Parks and Rec, which also featured a sidebar about loathing the group.

Andy calls Dwight and Jim into his office and scolds them for their ongoing shenanigans, which he says are irritating Pam's fill-in, Kathy. Last season's Christmas episode also put a spotlight on the Dwight-Jim prank war, but that took a turn for the creepily diabolical; this year, the back-and-forth all stayed in the realm of fun and became a cute little runner through the episode. Not to be too fancy, but it also served as a parallel for the Andy-Erin bullshit: At a certain point, do we just like antagonizing one another? How much of teasing and butting heads is a form of love?

At the warehouse, Darryl invites his crush Val to the party, advising her to dress up. Sad Bald Warehouse Lackey, whose name I didn't catch, also invites himself along to the party with the "Popsicles," so called, according to Val, because they have sticks up their butts. SBWL assumed it was because they were "all so rich, they could eat Popsicles all the time." Man, get this guy on the show more. When Val does show up at the party, she's substantially overdressed and pretty embarrassed, but Darryl makes it up to her by donning a tuxedo. Awwww. Just imagine how much that would have meant if we really knew Val at all.

Party time, excellent. Robert's bar-tending, and Erin asks for a soda. "Kirkland, if you have it," she says. That's Costco's house brand, which is a fun detail, but this whole scene is overwhelmed by a really gross sexual tension between the two. My notes here say "oh God, if Robert seduces Erin I'm gonna die," and I stand by that. Maybe James Spader can't turn off his sex aura or whatever it is that he does, but the dynamic here seemed predatory and gross. Erin goes on to have "a thousand" drinks, to Andy's irritation, and later busts out a pretty decent Stanley impression. Drunk Erin is pretty hilarious, but again it points to how little Ellie Kemper gets to do on most episodes.

Dwight and Jim's pranks escalate to: porcupines, spray paint, picture defacement, facial graffiti, etc. It's fun enough, but it's the most well-worn territory imaginable for this show. The only stand-out part is that Dwight uses "tooth powder" instead of toothpaste. Erin asks Kelly for help taking Jessica down, and with one well-timed "did you just fart?" Kelly shows us all how it's done. Subtle Sexuality 4 eva. Also, if that's the J.Crew pencil skirt I think it is, Kelly and I are skirt twins!

Gabe, SBWL, Creed, and Dwight go to town on some air guitar, and just like that, the drunken celebration draws to a close; Meredith is incapacitated, and Erin's getting a ride home with Robert. Skeevey! Again, if this turns actually sexual and not just jokily sexual, I will be Ides of March–level disappointed in this show. (The show is George Clooney. I am Ryan Gosling.) Andy follows Robert and Erin in Meredith's garbage-filled van ("my treasures!"), making sure nothing untoward happens (he's ... Philip Seymour Hoffman? I don't remember that movie too well), but also making sure their whole subplot never dies. I can take maybe two more episodes of their bright-eyed, big-smile, almost grossly innocent will-they-won't-they, but then it's maxed out.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC